Is there more we can do to help moms?

Mom 1March is National Women’s History Month and a good time to consider how women—and, more specifically, moms—are faring in today’s economy.

First, the good news: we are seeing an upward trend nationally in the number of newly hired employees for the last 7 months. The economy is moving in the right direction.

But the sobering news is that women have experienced substantial job loss and declining earnings. While men took the biggest employment hits during the recession, women’s employment has lagged behind during the recovery. The majority of women’s job losses have been in public sector employment. Overall, the poverty rate for custodial families has increased significantly in recent years. (Falling Behind, the Women’s Foundation of California, January 2012)

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New Ways to e-Communicate—Are they Right for You?

e-communication road signsNo matter where we work, we depend on email. And more and more, we depend on newer forms of electronic communication, too. On many government websites, we find buttons that connect us with new media and social media websites. We communicate via blogs, Facebook, twitter, discussion groups, and instant messaging; and we comment on web articles, podcasts and videos.

Writing through new media technology is not really different than writing an email or letter:  we need to know how to best present our message—whether it’s to a customer, a colleague, or a group of partners on a project. Who is our audience and what do they want to know, and what do we want them to know? Whether we are writing for a blog or a website or a YouTube script—or even instant messaging via online chats, cell phone texts, or tweets—we need to present our message clearly and concisely. (The latter three, of course, are generally already pithy—lol.) See the February Child Support Report for “plain language” tips.

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Our Program’s Turning Point in Technology

AppsThe child support program has a deep culture of innovation and investment in technology.  Technology makes it possible to locate parents and enforce support for 17.5 million children. Technology also can help us identify effective enforcement strategies, intervene early when payments fall off, and support excellent customer service at every point of contact with our program.

The January 2012 Child Support Report highlights two of the ways that technology is improving our case management and customer service, through early-intervention “alerts” in Colorado and electronic document management in West Virginia.

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Welcoming Back Parents in the Military

Military parent 1Over the past decade, the child support program has come to view both parents as its customers. We can’t do right by children unless we extend a helping hand to those mothers and fathers who need it. This is particularly the case for military families who have put themselves on the line for our country.

In her article in the December Child Support Report, Gwen Anderson, military liaison for Delaware’s child support program, talks about this changing approach to noncustodial parents. Gwen personifies the commitment to collaboration that we share in our program. As Gwen says, collaboration with military and veteran organizations “can offer great rewards for the child support agency, both parents, and most importantly, the children.”

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Our Growing Tribal Child Support Programs

Indian kidsThe number of tribal child support programs is growing—and many children are thriving as a result. Today, 42 tribes operate comprehensive programs and another 10 tribes manage start-up programs on their way to becoming comprehensive. Other tribes have expressed an interest in starting child support programs that meet the needs of Indian families and communities.

Tribes have long understood the value of working in a holistic environment compatible with the “bubble chart” as we see in the many examples of family-centered services in recent Child Support Report articles. We’ve read about Osage Nation’s program to help parents avoid incarceration (April); Albert Pooley’s (President of the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association) perspectives on strengthening families (June); Nez Perce Tribe’s video in social media to promote a fatherhood training program (September); and how child support agencies can address the prevalence of domestic violence in tribal families (October). And in the November issue, we learn about the Modoc tribal program’s enforcement tool that’s helping noncustodial parents obtain employment and avoid incarceration.

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Helping Domestic Violence Survivors Pursue Child Support Safely and Confidentially

boy at windowEconomic dependence is one of the main reasons that women remain with or return to an abusive partner. The research says that more than 90 percent of custodial mothers who face the risk of domestic violence want and need to pursue child support if they can do so safely and confidentially. Nonetheless, a parent may hesitate to seek child support services if she is afraid for her safety, and especially if she is worried about the safety of her child. What can we, as child support professionals, do to help domestic violence survivors in this situation?

Our opportunities to help parents who experience domestic violence have been expanding over the past few years. More than ever before, the child support program is committed to collaboration with other agencies that can help, and connecting vulnerable families to organizations that provide domestic violence services, including safety planning.

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‘Family-Centered Services’ Means Good Customer Service

Blowing bubblesPart of the meaning of “family-centered services” is providing good customer service. It means developing the habit of seeing yourself and your office through the eyes of the parents who interact with you, and reorganizing your work to become more responsive. Customer service is right in the center of the bubble chart—part of our core business.

What do you want from the child support program as a custodial mom, as a custodial dad, as a grandmother? First of all, you want results. You want the other parent to pay. You don’t want to waste your time. You don’t want to sit in a waiting room or in a phone queue. You don’t want to fill out paperwork over and over again. You want to get your questions answered. You want a clear understanding of what will happen to you in the process. You want to feel safe. You might want to apply for other programs, such as SNAP and SSI, if only someone would ask you. You don’t want to be judged. You want your worker to know what you are up against.

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State Services Portal – A Giant Step for Our Electronic Communications

Toddler at windowThe many systems that connect caseworkers around the country have become very important to the child support program. Child support professionals are able to help families get child support payments more quickly, and families are then better able to help their children thrive.

Many of you are already reaping the benefits of the State Services Portal—an exciting step forward in the world of child support electronic communications. Thanks to the portal (part of the Federal Parent Locator Service, or FPLS), state workers have web-based access to other states’ child support information through a secure, “single sign-on interface.” Last year the Query Interstate Cases for Kids (QUICK) and Federal Offset and Passport Denial applications, and the e-Employer Query Page, moved onto the State Services Portal.

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Improving Our Outreach to Hispanic and Latino Parents

Hispanic girls

The United States population is becoming more diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, Hispanics and Latinos will constitute 30 percent of the U.S. population, up from 16.3 percent in 2010. We know that the composition of the child support program’s caseload is changing as well. We have more Latino and Hispanic families, as well as families from a range of other ethnic and immigrant groups.

Child support professionals are increasingly aware of our need to conduct outreach to the Hispanic community. We are doing more to tailor our customer service to address the linguistic and cultural barriers to navigating the child support program and accessing other social services. For example, we are offering more bilingual publications and advertising on local radio and TV.

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Spreading the Message on Our Commitment to Fatherhood

father and babyThe child support program is one of the few government programs that systematically reach men, and the only one to do so in their roles as fathers. Because the program serves so many children—a quarter of all children and half of all poor children—and both their parents throughout childhood, it is uniquely positioned to connect men to a range of resources to help them be the fathers they want to be.

Across the country, child support programs are finding innovative new ways to help fathers provide for their children. State and local child support agencies have engaged in outreach, referral, case management and other activities in partnership with fatherhood, workforce, veterans, reentry, and asset-building programs to increase the ability of parents to support their children. They are working to engage fathers in the lives of their children, to increase noncustodial parent employment, to improve family relationships, and to address family violence prevention.  Read More: Spreading the Message on Our Commitment to Fatherhood

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